Estate planning: We will all need it some day

By Jane M. Winand
Legal Assistance Attorney
Office of the Staff Judge Advocate

Whether caused by the combat death of a service member, the suicide of a famous athlete or actor, or the death of a relative or friend, it is a natural reaction to contemplate one’s own mortality and the need to have one’s affairs in order.

As a Legal Assistance attorney at the Fort Meade Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, I make my living helping Soldiers, retirees and their family members navigate through the emotional process of drafting an estate plan.

Having practiced law as an Army attorney for almost 33 years, it still surprises me how many people have not finalized their estate planning needs with a Last Will and Testament, General and Health Care Powers of Attorney, Advance Medical Directive and other related documents.

This failure to take care of matters is even more surprising when you consider that comparable estate planning services could easily exceed $1,000 for civilians, yet are free through our office to Soldiers, retirees and their family members.

Failure to have a Last Will and Testament and other estate planning documents in place can make things more difficult for your loved ones if you should become incapacitated or die.

I urge everyone who has an existing estate plan to review it to determine if it is adequate or needs updating.

I also encourage those who do not have a will or other estate planning documents to consider meeting with a Legal Assistance attorney to address their estate planning needs.

The centerpiece of every estate plan is the Last Will and Testament, the legal document which lists the persons who are responsible to settle up the debts and other affairs of the estate and names the individuals or charities who will inherit the assets.

After counseling the client about unique needs, assets and desires for distribution, we tailor each will to meet the particular concerns of the individual client.

For example, we may include a trust for minor children to set aside funds for college education, a specific distribution of treasured collectibles, or a life estate. That guarantees that a second spouse has the use of the marital home until death, at which time the home would then be distributed to the children from the first marriage.

End-of-life concerns may be addressed through a Living Will or Advance Medical Directive to clearly state the client’s wish to die a peaceful and natural death if death is imminent.

The Health Care Power of Attorney allows the client to provide the name of a relative or friend who would have the power to make medical care decisions, such as the authorization of surgery, if the client is incompetent.

Other estate planning documents allow the client to specify plans for cremation or burial and appoint an agent to contract with a funeral director for these services.

A substantial part of the estate-planning consult with the attorney involves evaluation of the client’s estate for estate tax considerations as well as the determining options for the efficient transfer of assets upon death, often avoiding the probate process.

Our clients are so thankful to have these estate planning documents in place and frequently mention how they have peace of mind about the future and their loved ones.

In accordance with Army Regulation 27-3, the Legal Assistance Office is authorized to provide legal services to active-duty service members, retirees and their family members as well as Reserve Component members of the U.S. Armed Forces who are serving on active duty for more than 29 days.

Our office is located at 4217 Morrison St. Please call 301-677-9536/9504 to make an appointment to speak with an attorney.

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